Select Page

Featured: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, preparing to address the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Legislative Report Card Luncheon, held on Thursday, August 18, 2016, at the Embassy Suites by Hilton McAllen Convention Center.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

Additional measures have been filed by state lawmakers that would prevent Texas governments from approving certain types of contracts whose payments are allowed to be kept secret, said Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, a strong supporter of the people’s right to know, who has already introduced similar legislation that will promote transparency in government. Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, and Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, on Tuesday, January 3, 2016, each introduced two pieces of identical legislation, representing four individual bills, to close loopholes in the Texas Public Information Act that were created by recent Texas Supreme Court rulings. A key portion of the Capriglione/Watson proposals share the intent of Canales’ House Bill 349, which would require local governments in Texas to reveal the amount of public funds paid in part or in whole for parades, concerts, or other events open to the general public. Canales drafted his HB 349 following growing concern about a stand taken by McAllen city government that it is prevented in disclosing the fee it paid to Enrique Iglesias, one of the best-selling Latin recording artists in the world, who was the star attraction for a December 5, 2015 concert, held at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium, as part of McAllen Holiday Parade organized by the City of McAllen.

••••••

More Texas lawmakers file legislation that would prevent controversy sparked by McAllen contract with Enrique Iglesias, reports Rep. Terry Canales

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Additional measures have been filed by state lawmakers that would prevent Texas governments from approving certain types of contracts whose payments are allowed to be kept secret, said Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, a strong supporter of the people’s right to know, who has already introduced similar legislation that will promote transparency in government.

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, and Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, on Tuesday, January 3, 2016, each introduced two pieces of identical legislation, representing four individual bills, to close loopholes in the Texas Public Information Act that were created by recent Texas Supreme Court rulings.

In general, the Texas Public Information Act is defined as a series of laws incorporated into the Texas Governmental Code that serve to ensure the public has access to information held by the state government. The Act is analogous to the United States Freedom of Information Act which guarantees the accessibility of information held by Federal government agencies to the public.

A key portion of the Capriglione/Watson proposals share the intent of Canales’ House Bill 349, which would require local governments in Texas to reveal the amount of public funds paid in part or in whole for parades, concerts, or other events open to the general public.

Canales drafted his HB 349 following growing concern about a stand taken by McAllen city government that it is prevented in disclosing the fee it paid to Enrique Iglesias, one of the best-selling Latin recording artists in the world, who was the star attraction for a December 5, 2015 concert, held at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium, as part of McAllen Holiday Parade organized by the City of McAllen.

Canales said Texas governments – from school districts to state universities and agencies – should not be allowed to keep secret such expenditures paid for with tax funds.

“Let me make this clear: McAllen city government has been a leader in Texas in being transparent in what it does, such as being among the first to provide live broadcasts of its city commission meetings and providing on their Internet the entire city commission agenda packets,” said the Edinburg attorney. “My legislation would prevent in the future the signing of any contracts by state or local governments where the payments are not readily available to the public.”

Canales said he will invite the McAllen Mayor and McAllen City Commission to support his HB 349, including testifying on its behalf before House and Senate committees, as well as to endorse the Capriglione/Watson measures (HB 792 and HB 793 by Capriglione, and Senate Bill 407 and SB 408 by Watson).

“Unfortunately, McAllen continues to receive negative publicity about their decision to keep secret the amount of tax money paid to Enrique Iglesias,” Canales said. “But now, by supporting my HB 349 and the Capriglione/Watson proposals, the elected leadership of McAllen have excellent opportunities to demonstrate that they are indeed defenders of transparency in government.”

Canales said he will be working closely with Capriglione and Watson to help pass those their legislation (HB 792 and HB 793 by Capriglione, and Senate Bill 407 and SB 408 by Watson).

“I am honored to work with a bipartisan group of legislators from across the state to ensure that Texas is a place where government is accountable to the taxpayers”,” Canales said.

In particular, Canales has been in communication with Capriglione, and Canales has agreed to serve as a Joint Author of HB 792, which directly deals with situation that happened in McAllen.

According to the Texas Legislative Council, which is the legal arm of the Legislature, in the House of Representatives, a member authorized by the Primary Author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure and have his or her name shown following the Primary Author’s name on official printings of the measure, on calendars, and in the journal, is known as a Joint Author. The Primary Author may authorize up to four Joint Authors.

Capriglione and Watson unveiled their legislation on Tuesday, January 3, 2016, during press conference in the Speaker’s Committee Room at the Texas Capitol. (The press conference is available online at: http://tlchouse.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=6&clip_id=12432)

Leading up to their news conference, Capriglione and Watson provided background on key issues that led to the filing of HB 792, HB 793, SB 407 and SB 408, according to Jim Malewitz, who covered the story for the Texas Tribune.

“McAllen taxpayers cannot find out how much their city paid Enrique Iglesias to sing at a holiday concert, and that’s just one example of the fallout from a Texas Supreme Court decision that is shielding many business secrets from the public,” Malewitz reported. “Trying to get beyond the rhetoric on border security or immigration at the state or federal level is often a fool’s errand. Health workers and first responders hoped Texas might be awarded $1 million to buy an anti-overdose drug, but state officials never submitted the grant application and have gone to unusual lengths to keep the public from seeing government records related to the grant.”

CAPRIGLIONE, WATSON BILLS CLOSE LOOPHOLES IN PUBLIC INFORMATION LAW

Capriglione and Watson filed their two pieces of identical legislation (HB 792, HB 793, SB 407 and SB 408) on Tuesday, January 3, to close loopholes in the Public Information Act that were created by recent Texas Supreme Court rulings.

“Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent,” Capriglione said. “The original intent of the Public Information Act was to be as permissive as possible in favor of the citizens of Texas. The bills filed today (HB 792, HB 793, SB 407 and SB 408)will get us back to that intent and bring Texans true transparency. As the first bills I have filed this session I hope to underscore their importance to citizens and legislators alike.”

The stated purpose of the Texas Public Information Act is to enable the people to remain informed so they can retain control over their government, but that purpose has been undermined by these court rulings that have closed off access to information once deemed clearly public, Watson said.

“Unfortunately, two recent decisions from the Texas Supreme Court weakened the law by allowing governmental bodies and private entities that receive public funds to more easily conceal their dealings,” Watson said. “I believe it is our duty as the Legislature to ensure the people of Texas can track how government spends public money, and I’m proud to work with Rep. Capriglione to do just that.”

Watson and Capriglione said they worked with a broad coalition of interested parties to craft these bills. This group includes the Attorney General’s Office, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, Texas Press Association, Texas Association of Broadcasters, Texas Municipal League, Texas Association of Counties and Texas Conference of Urban Counties.

Boeing Boeing v. Paxton (2015) greatly expanded the competitive bidding exception to the Public Information Act in two ways:

• It allowed private entities to claim the exception; and

• It allowed the exception to apply to final, awarded contracts.

In essence, these changes transformed the competitive bidding exception into a second, lax trade-secrets exception, say supporters of these proposed state laws, the state legislators contended.

This expanded exception now allows private entities benefiting from public funds to shield basic information like price because at some point they may compete for the contract again. The legislation would undo this damage by limiting the competitive bidding exception to those cases when a governmental body demonstrates that the release of information would harm its interests “in a particular competitive situation.

Furthermore, the bills explicitly state that the exception does not apply to finalized government contracts.

Greater Houston Partnership Greater Houston Partnership v. Paxton (2015) redefined when publicly-supported private entities must comply with the Public Information Act.

For more than 30 years before this case, Texas relied on the Kneeland test, which protected the public’s ability to monitor public funds. In Greater Houston Partnership, the Texas Supreme Court abandoned the Kneeland test and said the Public Information Act only applies if a private entity is “sustained” by public funds. This is a much higher threshold that seems to ignore the Act’s text, which covers any private entity “that spends or that is supported in whole or in part by public funds.”

This legislation restores this protection by codifying the Kneeland test, which holds that a private entity must comply with the Public Information Act if it:

• Receives public funds, unless the funds are received pursuant to an arms-length contract for services;

• Receives public funds under a contract that indicates a common purpose or creates an agency-type relationship with the public entity; or

• Provides services traditionally provided by a governmental body.

••••••

Kate Alexander and Courtney Roberts contributed to this article. Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County. HD 4o includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, San Carlos and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!